NEW YORK • Mad Magazine, a 66-year-old humour publication, has been hurt by a circulation free fall for years, but it is still gunning for cultural relevance.
Mad is still mad about issues of the day. And, this month, readers have been heaping praise on a four-page comic strip in the Halloween issue.
It depicts 26 children, one for each letter of the alphabet, who were or would soon become victims of a school shooting.
"Sadly, times have changed and there's basically one way most kids seem to die now," an introduction to the strip said.
It begins innocuously: "A is for Alice the young science whiz."
But by the time "D is for Dana" is introduced, an ominous shadow lurks outside the classroom door.
Soon come three drawings that make the message of the strip clear - "F is for Frank, more than a statistic"; "G is for Greg, who was caught unawares"; and "H is for Hiro, who needs more than prayers".
As the strip continues, the words become less ambiguous.
"R is for Reid, valued less than a gun" - and the situations depicted become sadly familiar.
"T is for Tina, who's texting her mum," says one panel, showing a girl kneeling under her desk.
The strip ends with a drawing of a girl passing the graves of her classmates on the way to the school's entrance: "Z is for Zoe, who won't be the last."
The strip is the work of Matt Cohen, who began writing for Mad as a college intern in 1992, and artist Marc Palm.
Cohen submitted the script this summer. It was a departure from his usual work, which pokes fun at movies like The Incredibles (2004) and television shows like How I Met Your Mother (2005 to 2014) .
"I was also a little worried," he said, "that people might not take it in the right spirit. When they think of Mad Magazine with its parodies and jokes, here you have a four-page sequence where there are no jokes at all."
But for executive editor Bill Morrison, who took over the magazine last year, the idea recalled the Mad of his youth, which took on subjects such as the Vietnam War and political corruption.
"I knew it was important. I have to admit, though, that when the script came in and I saw that it was written as a four-pager, I had misgivings about the length."
Palm said: "I thought it was the perfect way to approach this sort of thing. It's taking more focus away from gun control and giving people perspective from the child's point of view."
For those who have long been associated with the magazine, the strip is something to celebrate.
"It deserves attention," said illustrator Drew Friedman, who has contributed to Mad for more than two decades. "Finally, they have a piece that people are talking about and, for me, harkens back to the dark humour of The National Lampoon and the best of Mad early on, when it was at its sharpest."
He added: "I can't see a young kid looking at this without getting upset. I know I would have."